Coyote Lakes, Kern River, Golden Trout Creek

Late May/Early June 1974

by Bill Finch

Our first year of grad school at San Diego State was coming to a close. I had itchy feet and needed to get back on the trail. My dad loved the southern Sierras so we decided to check the area out. The trailhead was somewhere near Quaking Aspen. We planned to split our time between high country, the lower Kern River, and Golden Trout Creek.

From what I remember, the southern Sierras are largely forested and somewhat drier than the country to the north. On the first day, we must have hiked pretty hard, because Karen didn't want anything to do with dinner. She was a game hiker, but I never learned how to slow down. [After a few years, she was no longer looking forward to hikes and was happy to let me go out on my own. After all these years, I realize that I alienated the best hiking partner I ever had.] She still feels nauseous every time she thinks about me eating all of a pot full of stew that was meant to feed two people.

Our second day was one of the most memorable days of hiking I have ever experienced. We had read and heard that rattlesnakes were common in the lower reaches of Kern Canyon and we were not disappointed. We had reached a high point on the trail and nearby a rattlesnake began to buzz. There was no sense in paying any attention to it. It was way off trail and no threat to us at all. We started our descent into Kern Canyon and it became apparent that he was just letting us know that we were entering country dominated by the serpents. There were rattlesnakes on the slope below, they were in the branches of nearby bushes, they were pretty much every where you looked. We were in the midst of a rattlesnake convention. As we made our way down the trail, one snake decided that he was not going to move from his place in the middle of the narrow trail. He just sat there, coiled and buzzing. A few sticks tossed his way convinced him to move off the trail and down the fairly steep slope. We lost count of how many snakes we saw as we moved those few hundred feet down trail. We descended into the Kern Canyon and made camp at Little Kern Lake. Karen above Little Kern Lake in Kern Canyon
Karen above Little Kern Lake in Kern Canyon
I had hopes that the fishing would be good, but it seemed that the only swimming residents of the lake were giant polywogs.

The next morning, we continued our hike up the Kern. I vaguely remember a brief stop at the Kern River Ranger Station and that the ranger wasn't there. We crossed the Kern and began our climb up Golden Trout Creek. Kern River crossing
We couldn't have made it across the Kern River without the bridge near the Ranger Station.

I remember seeing a lot of volcanic rocks which looked really exotic since they were not nearly as common farther north in the range where I had spent most of my time. Basalt outcrop next to trail
Basalt outcrop next to trail

We got to Little Whitney Meadow and Karen took a well deserved rest on a rock. Karen resting on a rock
Karen resting on a rock in lower Little Whitney Meadow

I cooled off by dunking my head in the creek. Bill dipping head in creek
Bill dipping his head in the creek to cool off. It's not easy hiking in new Levis.

We continued up the meadow where we found a nice campsite. Then I began searching for a fishing spot. Little Whitney Meadow
The creek was incised into the meadow.
The creek through the meadow was really small but it was big enough to yield a few golden trout for our dinner.

We retraced our steps of the previous day, passing by a natural bridge Natural bridge.
The natural bridge doesn't show up too well in this photo.

and a series of cascades during our descent into the canyon. Cascades on Golden Trout Creek
Cascades on Golden Trout Creek

We climbed out of Kern Canyon up its west side, past the snow line, above snowline
Above the snowline on the trail to Coyote Lakes

to a fork in the trail. Trail sign at junction
Trail sign at junction.

Eventually we made it to Coyote Lakes and set up camp. There was a lot of snow on the ground and about half of the lake was still covered in ice. Coyote Lakes covered in ice
Coyote Lake was covered with snow.

As soon as I got up the next morning, I started fishing from the shore near our camp. I caught a small brook trout and buried him in a nearby snow drift. After fishing for another half hour without further bites, I decided it was time to explore the area. I asked Karen if whe wanted to climb nearby Coyote Peak but she decided she'd rather stay behind and rest. The climb to the summit was easy and I took a few photos.
Coyote Lakes
Coyote Lakes from Coyote Peak

Bill on Coyote Peak
Bill on the summit of Coyote Peak

BM and register can on Coyote Peak
Register can and benchmark on Coyote Peak

Kern Canyon panorama from Coyote Peak
Kern Canyon Panorama from Coyote Peak

As I was admiring the view, the largest plane I had ever seen, a C-5?, flew directly over the peak. Karen was looking at the peak as the plane flew over and she said it looked as if the plane might knock me off the summit.

I returned to camp, hoping to catch a few more fish for dinner but the fish weren't biting. I dug into the snow bank for the fish I had caught that morning and to my surprise, although stiff and not moving, the fish looked as if it might revive if I returned it to the lake. I put it in the lake water and after a few moments it began to move slowly and draw water across its gills. In a flash, he was gone, aparently none the worse for wear.

Our last day was a long one and it certainly was not without its moments. Little Kern Canyon
Views included this one of Little Kern Canyon.

At a mid-morning stop, I found what I thought was a perfect place to sit for a while. My butt barely touched the rock before I heard a now very familiar buzz. I had sat down on a rock that was sheltering yet another rattlesnake and as soon as I heard the sound, I levitated. We moved a few feet farther down the trail where, this time, we inspected our seating arrangements more carefully.

That afternoon, we passed the most impressive log cabin I've seen in the forest. It was at the top of a steep, grassy slope in Lion Meadow and as neat as a pin. I've always wondered what it would be like to live in such a remote location and have to be as self-reliant as the occupants of that cabin must have been. A few miles later we were back at the car and on our way home.

Coyote Lakes Map

03 March 2013